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LCPS names Teacher of the Year and Principal of the Year

A young third-grade teacher coming into her own as a school leader and a principal renowned for her team-building skills have won the top annual awards Lenoir County Public Schools bestows on its educators.

In a virtual recognition event Thursday night, Darylanne Towery of Contentnea-Savannah K-8 School was named LCPS Teacher of the Year for 2021-2022 and Dr. Heather Walston of Northwest Elementary School was recognized as LCPS Principal of the Year for 2021-2022.

As district winners, both will represent LCPS in regional competition that begins in the fall. Regional winners compete for state titles.

Superintendent Brent Williams praised the dedication of the winning educators as well as the school nominees from whom they were chosen. “You dedicated yourself not just to your profession but you’ve dedicated yourself to the mission of selfless service to young people,” he said. “The needs are greater now than they’ve ever been. The pandemic has only increased the challenge.”

Indeed, the abrupt changes to the school year and to teaching wrought by the coronavirus pandemic surfaced as something of a theme for the recognition event – from the fact that nominees and well-wishers gathered online rather than at the usual steak-and-baked-potato banquet, to the muted memories of a 2020 awards process nearly undone and ultimately delayed by Covid-19 to assessments of how the pandemic has changed teaching by Towery and the two other LCPS Teacher of the Year finalists, Heather Sloan of Banks Elementary and Shalona Newkirk of Northwest Elementary.

Young woman with dark hair wearing a corsage poses in head-and-shoulders photo“Just when I thought I had everything under control and I felt pretty confident in my career, a pandemic hit,” Towery said in brief remarks before the award announcement. “I really didn’t have any idea what to do, but I did know that I had to make my children feel safe and excited to learn.”

Towery, Sloan and Newkirk were named Teacher of the Year finalists in March after a panel of judges conducted virtual interviews and reviewed portfolios submitted by Teacher of the Year selections at the district’s 17 schools and its pre-kindergarten program. Each school Teacher of the Year was recognized Thursday night.

Classroom observations by the judges earlier this month wrapped up the selection process, which Williams characterized as “quite a difficult task.”

Newkirk teaches fifth grade reading, science and social studies at the school where she was an elementary student. She’s been at Northwest for four years and previously taught for five years at Northeast Elementary.

A kindergarten teacher at Banks, Sloan has taught at the school for five years. She is kindergarten grade level chair and a member of Banks’ Curriculum/Professional Development Committee and its accreditation team.

LCPS Teacher of the Year Towery has spent four of her six years in education as a third-grade teacher at CSS. She graduated from UNC-Greensboro with a bachelor’s degree and is a working toward a masters in school administration degree from UNC-Wilmington. At CSS, she has served as a mentor to beginning teachers and is the school’s Read to Achieve representative and trainer.

“As the demands on teachers increase, Mrs. Towery embraces the challenge,” CSS principal Rhonda Greene wrote in her recommendation. “Her belief that as educators we can all make a difference in our students’ lives touches and affects everyone in our school community.”

Towery said she was surprised at her selection from among “so many amazing teachers.”

 “I hope I represent everybody well and am just thankful for this opportunity,” Towery said after the award announcement.

Young woman with brown hair poses in head-and-shoulders photoDr. Walston, as 2021-2022 Principal of the Year, was praised in introductory remarks by Superintendent Williams as a transformative presence at Northwest Elementary.

“Over the last few years, this principal has led the school through strong and steady gains in both student proficiency and student growth. This principal has led the school in cutting the student discipline rate and also reducing the staff turnover rate,” Williams said.

The Deep Run native, in her fifth year as principal at Northwest, Dr. Walston taught history at South Lenoir for eight years before becoming assistant principal at E.B. Frink Middle School. A product of Lenoir County’s public schools, she graduated from South Lenoir High in 1997 as valedictorian.

“I am so thrilled to have the opportunity represent the district that I’ve grown up in. I will do my best to represent you well,” Dr. Walston said when her award was announced.

Thursday night, LCPS also saluted Fane S. Greenfield, a teacher assistant in the Exceptional Children’s program at North Lenoir High School, as the 2021-2022 LCPS Teacher Assistant of the Year; and Tysha DuBose, cafeteria manager at La Grange Elementary School, as the 2021-2022 LCPS Non-Instructional Classified Staff of the Year.

Both received their awards earlier this month.